The Brooklyn Dodgers and the Third Use of the Law

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken April 20, 1997

Back in the early 1940’s—a few years before Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in the major leagues—the Brooklyn Dodgers were managed by Leo “the Lip” Durocher. They called Leo “the Lip” because he was a big mouth. More than once Durocher started a bench-clearing brawl. One of his biographers concludes he was even “too loud and aggressive for the Yankees,” so they shipped him to the National League [John Devaney, The Greatest Cardinals of Them All, <state w_st=”on”><place w_st=”on”>New York</place></state>: Putnam, 1968, p. 86]. When he started managing in Brooklyn he would shout to his pitchers, “Stick it in his ear, stick it in his ear” [Bob Broeg, Stan Musial, <state w_st=”on”><place w_st=”on”>New York</place></state>: Doubleday, 1964, p. 58].

One of Leo Durocher’s shortcomings was being too hard on young ballplayers. If one of his rookies made an error, “the Lip” would hurl invective at him from the dugout. By the time the inning was over the youngster had been covered in curses.

Fortunately, the Dodgers had some assistant coaches in those days who had more patience and more wisdom. One of them was the kindly Red Corriden. Corriden’s job was to restore the rookie’s confidence. Back in the dugout, or back in the clubhouse, Red would put his arm around him and speak words of encouragement. He would explain that even Durocher’s verbal abuse was a good sign. It meant he thought the player had a future in baseball; otherwise, he wouldn’t be nearly so upset.

The next day another coach would take over, Charley Dressen, who later went on to lead the Dodgers to the pennant. Dressen would meet the rookie for practice before the next game. He would begin by rehearsing the error he had made the day before. But then he would show the player how to avoid making the same mistake again. Dressen would work with him on his footwork, or his positioning, or his hitting stroke, or on throwing to the proper base.

Why am I telling you all this? Because the Brooklyn Dodger coaching staff of the 1940’s illustrates the use of the law in the Christian life. By “law” I mean the eternal commands of God as they are summarized in the Ten Commandments. Just as the Dodgers had a coach to curse and a coach to teach, so the law of God curses us for our sins and teaches us how to be righteous.

The first thing the law of God does is show us our sin. As soon as we learn that God requires us to love him with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves we discover that we are not very good lovers. The law exposes the fact that we love neither God nor our neighbors. As the apostle Paul explained to the Romans, through the law we become conscious of sin (Rom. 3:20). Or again, I would not have known what sin was except through the law (<place w_st=”on”><country-region w_st=”on”>Rom.</country-region></place> 7:7). Leo Durocher did much the same thing for his Brooklyn Dodgers. He cursed them for their errors.

But the law of God does more than curse. It also drives us to salvation in Jesus Christ. As Augustine observed,

“the law bids us, as we try to fulfill its requirements, and become wearied in our weakness under it, to know how to ask the help of grace” [in J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, IVP, 1993, p. 94].

As soon as we know we are sinners we see the need to be saved from our sins. We admit that we deserve the eternal wrath of God, we repent for our sins and we put our faith in Jesus Christ. We run from the law into the arms of our Savior. In his death on the cross we find forgiveness for our lawlessness. And like Red Corriden, Jesus puts his arms around us to tell us everything will be all right.

Once we know Jesus Christ then we have a whole new use for the law. Like Charley Dressen, the law coaches us not to make the same mistakes again. It teaches us how to please God. It shows us how to think and say and do God’s will. Now we obey the Ten Commandments, not out of grudging duty, but out of joyful gratitude.

John Calvin called this the “third use of the law.” The first use or purpose of the law is to show us our sin. That is where Leo “the Lip” Durocher came in, with all his curses. The second use of the law is to restrain evil. Although the law cannot change the human heart, sometimes it can force us to obey God, especially when God’s law becomes the law of the land. As far as I know, the Brooklyn Dodgers didn’t have a coach to represent the second use of the law, unless they had someone to collect fines for being late for the train.

The third use or purpose of the law is to teach us how to do good works. Once we know Christ we are free to fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2; cf. 1 Cor. 9:21). The third use of the law is to teach us how to be good Christians, much the way Charley Dressen used to teach young Dodgers how to be good baseball players.

The King James Version of the Bible describes the law as a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). Having learned about the Brooklyn Dodgers and the third use of the law, we almost might say that the law is a baseball coach to lead us to Christ. First it curses our sin to show us we need a Savior. But in the end it teaches us how to please the Savior who died for our sins.

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